Cricket: Lamb takes chance as faithful sweat

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The Independent Online
Sussex 230-9; Northamptonshire 146-3

QUITE how a dismal summer chose to leave Wimbledon alone and has allowed Australia the few hours they need to win Tests will bemuse faithful county followers, shuffling through ranks of damp bucket seats in gently steaming macs as they await an umpire's inspection.

Northamptonshire's success so far this season, and their status as NatWest Trophy holders, swelled the faithful to a moist quarter-final sell-out at the County Ground yesterday morning.

The weather gods relented at lunchtime as they had here on Saturday, when Northamptonshire were given time to build a winning Championship lead against Surrey.

Sussex have had fewer reasons to be cheerful but one was the win that brought them here, when centuries by David Smith and Bill Athey motored them home against Hampshire.

Allan Lamb asked Sussex to set the target this time, and at 12.55 the laudable but optimistic aim was still to offer the crowd a complete game. Smith and Athey survived mean opening spells by Curtly Ambrose and Paul Taylor before building a substantial foundation, and the momentum was sustained by a cameo from Martin Speight, reverse sweeps included.

None of Sussex's top four went on to a big innings, however, and a persistent spell by Nick Cook, not cheap but attacking, curbed the visitors' progress. With wickets falling regularly and Franklyn Stephenson's haymakers failing to harvest, Sussex's eventual respectability was in the hands of a bustling Peter Moores.

It looked even more respectable when Northamptonshire were 26 for 2 and, had Smith clutched a straight slip catch before Lamb had scored, it would have been worse. Lamb set about punishing the error, with an out-of-touch Nigel Felton in support. Lamb was in commanding mood, scampering as much as bludgeoning, until run out by a beautiful piece of opportunism by Ian Salisbury when seeking a second run that was not there.

It was 7.30 and darkening now, a dangerous time to rebuild the innings. The umpires soon agreed and with Northamptonshire needing 85 in 20 overs, a halt was called with the match too close to call at this stage.